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March 5, 2014

Wikinews interviews specialists on Russian intervention in Ukraine

Wikinews interviews specialists on Russian intervention in Ukraine

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Map of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and of Sevastopol, Ukraine.

People in Ukraine protesting against Russia’s intervention “Crimea is Ukraine”.
Image: ВО Свобода.

A Crimean self-defense group with shields painted as the flag of the autonomous republic.
Image: E. Arrott.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In the past few days, tension has been increasing due to conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation which has led to the United States, the United Kingdom, and France increasing pressure on Russia to remove their troops from Crimea.

Wikinews interviewed specialists in Russian foreign policy and specialists in international law about the legality of Russia’s actions and the consequences of any sanctions imposed by G7 nation economies.


Wikinews interviewed:

  • Jane Burbank, Professor of History and Russian and Slavic Studies at the New York University, New York
  • Jeremy Morris, Senior Lecturer in Russian Studies at the University of Birmingham, Birmingham
  • Craig Brandist, Professor of Cultural Theory and Intellectual History in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield
  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow for Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Yanni Kotsonis, Director, New York University Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia in New York.

Wikinews Q&A

File photo of interviewee Craig Brandist.
Image: Craig Brandist.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Are Russian troop deployments into Ukrainian territory a clear violation of sovereignty?

  • Morris: Yes.
  • Burbank: Yes, the borders of the Ukrainian state were drawn up in 1991 and reinforced by the 1994 Budapest accords. See the article by Paul Goble on these accords.
  • Brandist: It would be hard to describe it otherwise. That said, however, it is quite extraordinary hypocrisy for the US and UK to strike moral poses about this, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia clearly has strategic interests in the region, and there is a large Russian-speaking population in much of Ukraine, a majority in Crimea and an important part of the east of the country, and the arrangement after the collapse of the USSR was clearly fragile, especially when NATO expansion took place. None of this is to excuse Russian actions, but they cannot be understood without focus on the ‘great game’ of which it is part.
  • Blank: By any standard Russia’s actions represent a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and integrity, a premeditated break with numerous treaties signed by Russia guaranteeing Ukraine’s security, integrity, and sovereignty, and thus Premier Yatsenyuk is right these are acts of war.
  • Kotsonis: On the surface it seems so. Mind you, it is complicated because Russia has been given rights to the bases on the Crimea and this may give Russia the pretext for a larger intervention. But it does not seem to be a clear-cut legal case for intervention and everyone understands that this is Russia smarting over the loss of an ally in Yanukovich and guarding its own back yard interests.

File photo of interviewee Yanni Kotsonis.
Image: Yanni Kotsonis.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Are we going to see a proxy war between the United States and Russia?

  • Morris: No.
  • Burbank: I doubt that we will have a real war, but note that the Russians who falsely accused the “West” and the U.S. for instigating the political activism of Ukrainians (denying that Ukrainians themselves wanted to change their corrupt government for a more democratic and inclusive one) now have managed, through provocation, to get the “West” involved in the conflict. (So far this involvement is only diplomatic and verbal.) Moreover, the analysis so common in the Western media of a divided Ukraine (East vs West) has played into Russia’s hands, setting up a scenario for strife and divisiveness.
  • Brandist: I think it unlikely at present. Russia humiliated the US when it entered Georgia to stop it becoming part of NATO, exposing the limits of US power in areas where Russia has an overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons. Russia clearly cannot contest the US on a global basis in the way that the USSR once could, but it remains a great power with a powerful regional presence, while the limits of US power have been graphically illustrated in the Middle East and Caucasus. This is another illustration of that.
  • Blank: It is too soon to know what we are going to see but a proxy war is one possibility as is a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia (note I did not say war). In my personal opinion resolute NATO action combined with economic and political action of a similarly robust nature would force Russia to back down because it knows it cannot afford to go up against NATO. Indeed this operation was undertaken because Putin et al openly and […] publicly declared their belief that Obama and other Western leaders are weak, irresolute, and afraid to act. This calculation must be reversed decisively if peace is to hold.
  • Kotsonis: I doubt it. The US has used stern language but so far has taken direct intervention off the table. On the other hand Russia has declared publicly that it can intervene militarily and has decided that the US will not. “Proxy” does not capture it because Russia is actually in Ukraine and the US won’t be.

File photo of interviewee Jane Burbank.
Image: Jane Burbank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png In response to Russia’s build-up of its forces in Crimea, Ukraine has ordered a full military mobilisation. To what extent can Ukrainian troops hold back and successfully fight Russian forces?

  • Morris: Anything is possible, but I think Ukraine lacks the political will to enter large-scale conflict. There may be insurgency-like fighting.
  • Brandist: Russia has overwhelming superiority in both the south and east of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian forces are not necessarily reliable in a conflict with Russia given the support for Russia among a substantial part of the Ukrainian population. Ukraine does, however, have substantial assets elsewhere and if Russia was to try to move into the Ukrainian heartland it would be a substantial operation. This is precisely why it is unlikely to do it. Moreover, Russia does not want a division of Ukraine, which could lead NATO to become established within the borders of the ex-USSR, so it is more likely it is seeking to change the facts on the ground so to be able to negotiate from a position of strength. It is difficult to predict how events will unfold on the ground, however, given the informal and extreme nationalist forces who are operating.
  • Blank: It is unlikely that Ukraine could prevail in such a conflict but I think it would unhinge Russian calculations, create the basis for protracted conflict, including guerrilla war for which Russia is not prepared, and thus force the West to act and begin the process of imposing costs on Russia that Putin did not foresee. Indeed that is one reason why this is an incredibly reckless action on Putin’s part.
  • Kotsonis: No one thinks Ukraine can stand up to Russia. It’s partly because Russia is bigger and better equipped, partly because Russia has bases in Ukraine, and partly because Russia is relatively united. One will have to see whether Ukraine will unite when so many of its citizens identify with Russia. We do not know the answer to this, only anecdote.

File photo of interviewee Jeremy Morris.
Image: Jeremy Morris.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would penalties imposed on Russia by the ‘Western nations’ being the United States, UK and France have severe consequences for the Russian economy?

  • Morris: Not really, so much depends on oil price for Russia, but fall in [the] rouble due to lack of confidence may affect ordinary Russians’ ability to buy imported goods.
  • Brandist: Clearly such measures would have negative effects, and the business community in Russia is clearly worried. That said, however, the likelihood of any coherent action against Russia is not great, not least because much of Europe is reliant of Russian gas. Moreover, it is European states that would face any potential flood of refugees and so European states will not be keen on too much pressure that could lead Russia to press Ukraine even more. Germany effectively vetoed Georgia’s attempt to be part of NATO, and it would have even more interests in trying to stabilize the situation now. In this situation the ‘Western nations’ mentioned have limited leverage, though it clearly would have an impact.
  • Blank: Ejecting Russia from the G8 is meaningless. Sanctions that would register are sanctions on Putin et al so they cannot access their money, action in the WTO [World Trade Organization] to arraign Russia for violating its statutes, legislation placing sanctions on Russia equivalent to those on Iran that have crippled it, staging a run on the rouble, and if necessary blockading the Baltic and Black Seas to prevent maritime commerce. Most importantly but this is over time, Europe must reorient its gas and oil purchases away from Russia on a long-term basis. All these moves must be taken together and in tandem with military-political moves to uphold Ukraine’s integrity and sovereignty and thus preserve peace by deterring Russia and imposing excessive costs upon it.
  • Kotsonis: It will probably make matters worse for Russia but it won’t be a causal factor. Russia is overly dependent on commodities exports and is at the mercy of world prices. The world wants those resources and will probably not renounce them, but they may not be enough to keep the economy growing in Russia. Any penalties would only accelerate the secular trend.

Soldiers without insignia guard buildings in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, March 2, 2014.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png There are reports that Russia could be ejected from the G8 group of developed economies. Would this be a major blow for Putin’s domestic popularity?

  • Morris: Not really.
  • Brandist: In present circumstances not. There is a substantial constituency in Russia that is nostalgic about its imperial status, especially after the humiliation inflicted on the state during the Yeltsin period, and these conflicts are presented in this context. Certainly recognition of Russia at the G8 was a prestige factor, but there are clearly compensations on an ideological level in the present situation. This is an illustration of Russia’s ascendency vis-a-vis the US and the EU [European Union] in one sense. What it all means in the longer term depends on a significant amount of variables, however.
  • Blank: Ejecting Russia from the G8 is necessary but insignificant in its own right.
  • Kotsonis: No, it would probably increase his popularity in an us-v-them dynamic. Putin thrives politically on autarky and it may be treated as an attack on Russian prestige. But less on Putin’s reputation at home.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is the Russian general public in full support of the deployment of their own troops into Ukraine, a separate sovereign nation?

  • Morris: No, this is a distraction by Putin from increasing economic and political problems in Russia. A minority of Russians support deployment and I think support from ordinary Russians will fall when they realise deployment may result in the killing of fellow Slavs.
  • Burbank: There is no such thing as a united Russian public. There are many views in Russia, as elsewhere. Clearly, some people in Russia oppose this assault on Ukraine, as we have seen from the arrests and beating of demonstrators in Moscow. There is a section of the academic “community” — also a deceptive word — that is opposed to the invasion.
If you are interested in this, read the discussion on Ab Imperio’s Facebook site, where many young academics are expressing their views.
I would like to repeat one point: the notion of a simple nationalized divide between East and West Ukraine is both false and counter-productive. There are nationalists in many areas of the country, but there are also people with other political commitments. It is dangerous for the Western media to reinforce the notion that nationalist sentiment (pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian) is the only political force in Ukraine. A whole generation has grown up since Ukraine’s independence and many people, old and young and in the middle, have ideas about sovereignty and politics that are not simply “ethnic.”
  • Brandist: Russia does not have a unified or stable ‘public opinion’ any more than anywhere else. Moreover, the Crimea and east of Ukraine are not necessarily viewed as fully a separate nation among many Russians. Many Russians have relatives there and go there for vacations. At present the majority are in support for the reasons I’ve just outlined. However, we have seen significant opposition movements in recent years, which shows that if things turn out badly then Putin may be vulnerable. There is clearly an assessment of risks that has been carried out by the Kremlin, and so far it has paid off. Indeed, it probably strengthens Putin’s compromised standing at home, but if things do go wrong then this could change quickly.
  • Blank: It is probably the case that Putin enjoys public support in Russia but that is irrelevant since the media’s been so thoroughly cowed as to be unreflective of reality and the issue is not public opinion there but Putin and the ruling clique.
  • Kotsonis: Yes, this seems to be the case. You need to understand that Ukraine is in Russian minds somewhere between a close friend and a back yard. It was always assumed that this was the key alliance for Russia and tacitly understood that Russia’s geopolitical interests would be respected. Europe’s gamble last year was to pull Ukraine into the Euro orbit by forcing Ukraine to choose. Almost anyone in Russia saw this as a direct challenge. I can’t say for certain but I imagine a large majority think the intervention is justified.

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March 19, 2011

Crucifixes can be displayed in state schools, European court rules

Crucifixes can be displayed in state schools, European court rules

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

File:European court of human rights.JPG

European Court of Human Rights

(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously yesterday that state school classrooms displaying crucifixes do not violate the rights of non-Catholic pupils.

In a reversal of the unanimous November 2009 decision the court said, although the crucifix is “above all a religious symbol“, it is an “essentially passive symbol” and there is no evidence crucifixes displayed on classroom walls influence pupils.

The court’s final ruling reverses their 2009 decision in a case brought by a Finnish-born mother living in Italy who objected to the Roman Catholic symbols in her children’s classrooms on the grounds that they violated the secular principles state schools should uphold. The court agreed, saying the crucifix might be “emotionally disturbing for pupils of other religions or those who profess no religion”. But the decision created a vociferous outcry in many European countries, such as Italy, which argued the crucifix is a cultural symbol, and a part of Europe’s culture and history.

The appeal was handled by New York University legal scholar Joseph Weiler, arguing extreme secularism could threaten the use of British national anthem God Save the Queen.

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, welcomed the reversal. According to the newspaper La Repubblica he said, “The decision underlines, above all, the rights of citizens to defend their own values and their own identities. I hope that following this verdict Europe will begin to examine issues of tolerance and religious freedom with the same courage.”

Friday’s ruling is binding on the 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, the continent’s monitor of human rights, paving the way for petitions to other governments to allow religious symbols in schools for those who want them.



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November 5, 2008

Children of smokers more likely to go hungry, according to study

Children of smokers more likely to go hungry, according to study

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

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More information on Health at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
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A medical study has identified a previously unknown risk to children of parents who smoke tobacco: hunger. Children who live in households with at least one adult smoker are more likely to be underfed, according to Dr. Cynthia Cutler-Triggs of the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital.

A new study links smoking adults to undernourished children.
Image: Giovanni Dall’Orto.

Dr. Cutler-Triggs’s study measured food insecurity, a concept used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the 1990s to measure the frequency of skipped meals and how often people go to bed hungry. Researchers examined data on 8,817 households from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study parsed the survey, which tracked the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States, according to smoking habits and household income.

17 percent of children in low income smoking households suffered food insecurity, compared to an overall food insecurity rate of 11 percent among children. Severe food insecurity occurred among 3.2 percent of children in smoking households.

Only 0.9 of children from nonsmoking households had severe food insecurity. Similar rises in food insecurity occurred among adults from smoking households, but researchers were more concerned about the effects on the health of growing children.

Cquote1.svg We know that there are long-term consequences of food insecurity for children. Cquote2.svg

—Dr. Michael Weitzman

Dr. Michael Weitzman, chairman of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post, “We know that there are long-term consequences of food insecurity for children. They are more likely to do poorly in school, to have iron deficiency and anemia, and to have behavioral and social problems.”

An estimated 2 percent to 20 percent of smokers’ incomes goes for tobacco, which may compete with the grocery budget in some families. Household income accounted for some but not all of the difference in food security. Dr. Weitzman expressed concern that a continued recession may worsen the problem. “If the economic downturn persists, both food insecurity and adults smoking are likely to increase… [because smoking] is one of the hardest addictions to give up.”


Wikipedia has more about this subject:
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

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October 3, 2007

Vivien Goldman: An interview with the Punk Professor

Vivien Goldman: An interview with the Punk Professor

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Vivien Goldman: “I’ve seen a lot of death. Many of the people I knew in Jamaica are dead. I think of them a lot.”
photo: David Shankbone

Vivien Goldman recalls with a laugh the day in 1984 when she saw her death, but the laugh fades as she becomes lost in the memory. She was in Nigeria staying in Fela Kuti’s home; she had just arrived hours before and found people sleeping everywhere like house cats when Muhammadu Buhari’s army showed up to haul everyone to jail. Kuti was an opponent of the government who was in jail, and they came to arrest his coterie of supporters. They grabbed Goldman and were about to throw her in a truck until Pascal Imbert, Kuti’s manager, yelled out, “Leave her alone. She just arrived from Paris! She’s my wife! She knows nothing!

Goldman stops for a moment and then smiles plainly. “They thought I was just some stupid woman…. That time sexism worked in my favor.”

Vivien Goldman has become a living, teaching testimony of the golden era of punk and reggae. She is an adjunct professor at New York University who has taught courses on the music scene she was thrust in the middle of as a young public relations representative for Island Records. She writes a column for the BBC called “Ask the Punk Professor” where she extols the wisdom she gained as a confidant of Bob Marley; as the person who first put Flava Flav in video; as Chrissie Hynde’s former roommate; as the woman who worked with the The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Slits and The Raincoats.

As Wikinews reporter David Shankbone found out, Goldman is one of those individuals that when you sit in her presence you realize she simply can not tell you everything she knows or has seen, either to protect the living or to respect the dead.

DS: The first biography of Bob Marley, Soul Rebel, Natural Mystic, was written by you based upon your personal experiences with him, and you have recently written a book about Marley called The Book of Exodus. How difficult is it to continue to mine his life? Is it difficult to come up with new angles?

VG: The original biography was written in a weekend and it was based upon my extensive interviews with him, whereas the Exodus book took two and a half years. I must have been a year past deadline, because it kept on growing. Even I had to acknowledge it was a more mature work. After I wrote the first one, all these other people came out with books. I read them, and they were all good in their different ways, but there was a story that had not been told but that I had lived so intensely, a deep story that had shaped my whole life. It demanded I write a book about it. Nobody else has the experience, and I still have that oompf.

DS: You were there with Marley through that time when he really caught on; was it obvious to you then that there was something amazing and unique happening?

VG: It was really something, and it was huge, but I didn’t examine it then. I believed in Bob with every fiber of my being, but it was hard to realize how everybody in the world would get it in the end, and just how towering a figure and enduring he would prove to be. He deserves everything and more; the role that he occupies is so central. It would have been hard to envisage how huge he became, though.

DS: Warhol’s Factory photographer, Billy Name, once told me he knew that what was going on was amazing, but he never thought Warhol would become the entire fabric of the art world as he is now.

VG: Especially in New York. Warhol was so associated with the punk scene.

DS: But Marley has become a fabric of sorts…

VG: Oh, he’s beyond the fabric of reggae, he’s the fabric of the rebel spirit. Now everybody just puts on a little red, green and gold and they feel it identifies them as being there in the struggle. Even if it is someone flying to the Hamptons for the weekend, they bring out Marley to expresses the rebel aspect they don’t want to completely lose.

DS: How do you define punk?

VG: There are two things. First, the aesthetic: harder, faster, louder. But the second thing is what interested me more, which was the rebel spirit and attitude. That free spirit of punk; that implicit sense of wanting to change a system that is always unfair wherever you are, except for maybe in the Netherlands. But it’s become so commodified

DS: What is the commodified version of punk selling?

VG: Edgy and dangerous. It is amazing: you open the New York Times and the free bits fall out and you get Urban Outfitters or Old Navy with lines of punk kiddie clothes. K-mart, even. I was trying to see what was so deeply punk about those clothes. They were maybe more colorful or something, but they weren’t punk. It’s like the Swarovski crystal take on punk, I mean, please!

DS: That aesthetic is everywhere, as though if one spikes his hair he is punk.

VG: Well, the punk is in the heart, to paraphrase Deee-Lite. I was writing about Good Charlotte and The Police. They adopted the trappings of punk. They aren’t bad groups, but the punk aspect is more manifested by somebody like Manu Chao. He’s one of the punkiest artists out there I can think of. It’s an inclusionary spirit that is punk.

DS: Your philosophy is that punk is not just musical, but also an aesthetic. That it can imbibe anything; that it stands for change and for changing a system. Let me give you a few names, and you to tell me how you think they are or are not punk. Britney Spears.

VG: Oh, no she’s not punk. Punk is not just about wearing smeary black eyeliner, but some sense of engagement. That’s it in a nutshell. She doesn’t have that sense of engagement. She is society.

DS: Dick Cheney.

VG: He is the essence of Babylonian, old structure capitalism, which is about greed and how much one can take for himself. I could see capitalism that is mutually beneficial, such as ‘I want a bigger customer base,’ but they don’t. Take a place I know well like Jamaica. I don’t know if you have seen that documentary Life and Debt, about how the INF squeezed everything out of Jamaica, but that’s a typical thing that happens. Instead of building these people up and paying them a living wage for their work, where we could sell more to them, we just want to suck everything out of the place. Suck the sugar, suck the labor. And that is not very punk. It’s the opposite of punk. That’s what Dick Cheney represents to me. He tries to bring about change, but change that just fattens his pocket. It’s not thinking of the community, and that’s what punk is about.

DS: Kanye West.

VG: He seems to be a positive force. In that sense, I would file him slightly under punk.

DS: Osama bin Laden.

VG: He thinks he is a punk, but he’s too destructive. If I was sitting in the madrassa in the desert chanting the Koran seven days a week, I’d think, yeah, he’s a punk. But I’m not, so I don’t.

DS: Is the definition of punk relative, then? He’s a Madrasah punk but not a Manhattan punk?

VG: Having said that, they would loathe punks, so I think we can safely say, not a punk.

DS: Pete Doherty.

VG: Oh yeah, I think he’s a punk. He’s a punk and he engages with the system in terms of how a powerful a presence he’s become. He is the Keith Richards of his day.

DS: If punk is about change, then why the maudlin sentimentality over the closing of CBGB’s, which at times turned into demonizing a homeless shelter?

VG: Yeah, and they had not paid their rent, had they? I sided with the homeless shelter in a way, except I thought the whole thing was ridiculous because somebody should have stepped in and bought it and paid it and fixed it up, in the sense there is no shrine. They don’ think about the tourism, do they? I expect that of America now. Los Angeles just destroyed the Brown Derby, and the modernist architecture. That’s the thing about America. There seems to be very little regard for legacy. I think they should have kept CBGBs, but I think that more cynically. My students had a huge debate about it.

DS: I felt it was what it was at a certain moment, but it wasn’t that anymore. They were charging eight dollars for a beer. That’s not very punk, and that wasn’t attracting the punk crowds. It was like people who move to the Bowery because they think it’s so edgy but it’s really a boulevard of glittering condos.

VG: Nostalgie pour la boue: nostalgia for the mud. Not all of them, though. Patti Smith. Anyway, the spirit had moved on to Williamsburg.

“They are flushing out the artists. Manhattan is now a ghetto for the very rich.”

DS: Where do you think New York’s culture is going? There are so few places on Earth with such a large concentration of creatives who meet and influence each other, but the city is becoming less affordable and cleansed of any grit. Is there a place for punk in the Manhattan of the future?

VG: They are flushing out the artists. Manhattan is now a ghetto for the very rich. When punk started it was in weird places, places you broke into and that had never been used for shows. It was never in regular venues, but now every nook and cranny is a regular venue and it doesn’t leave much space for the old punk spirit. ABC No Rio, I think they manage to work it in the system. And there are places like The Stone, John Zorn’s place, which has avant-garde free form jazz. He subsidizes that place, so it remains a little haven. There are a few little pockets, but it has a lot do with the rent. Realistically, there’s loads of stuff happening in places like Brooklyn, more than there seems to be in Manhattan. When I jammed with The Slits, that happened at some after-hours thing in Brooklyn in some warehouse. I remember loads of things in funny places. The first time I heard Public Enemy I was on the rooftop of a building.

DS: You’re friends with Flava Flav, right?

VG: Yes, although I haven’t seen him in a very long time. I remember how I met him. I was doing this video for I Ain’t No Joke with Erik B and Rakim, and they weren’t very vibey in terms of the stagecraft, as it were. The projection. Not to diss anybody, but I needed someone to bring a bit more life into it; it was very low-budget, a vérité kind of shoot. We were in a playground in the projects and there were all these blokes hanging around, and there was one who was super-sprightly, like a live wire. I didn’t know it was Flava Flav and I shouted out, Hey, you, will you come over and be groovy for us? and he did and a lot of the action in the video is Flava Flav spinning around, doing a Dervish in the middle of the playground.

DS: At the time he wasn’t known?

VG: Well, it turned out he was in a group called Public Enemy. The first time I heard them was at a rooftop party, and it’s one of my great New York memories. It was a warehouse building that’s still there behind Houston and Bowery and I remember it was amazing because you never heard music like that before. It was blaring. It was so hot and we were in the middle of the city with graffiti on the walls, people smoking spliffs. It was very free. You don’t see that anymore. Everything is more heavily policed.

DS: Do you think apathy is a problem today?

VG: There’s less intelligent, critical content in general, and celebrity magazines pay the most and sell the most. It’s the Lowest Common Denominator. Britney Spears is an unbelievable example. She’s so young with no good guidance around her, and she is fodder for them to sell more magazines. There’s a gladiator aspect of it: the worse off she is, the better for that industry. But I’m still looking for the people who have conscience. Michael Franti, he’s one of the only ones I look to now. He had that band Spearhead. I’m looking around for conscious artists.

DS: What about G. G. Allin? He used to defecate on the stage to make a point.

VG: That’s quite extreme, and very unhygienic. I wouldn’t need to see that. I don’t think that’s necessarily punk, it’s just scatological. Some people might think it’s punk, but I personally wouldn’t dig it. It’s outrageous, but not in the way I find interesting.

DS: Well, he’s dead. Do you think people are afraid to speak out today?

VG: I guess in Vietnam you did, but now the culture isn’t nearly as organized.

DS: Is violence for the cause of social change punk?

VG: Violence will occur in social change. Violence has always been associated with punk, although punk wants peace in a way. When you look at all the bands in punk, like No Future and Blank Generation, it has implicit an aspiration to a place where you don’t have to be violent. Often it happens. The punk era was violent. Very, very violent. So many people were beaten up during those days. I’m very much a peacenik, but violence often happens, one observes, on the road to social change.

DS: Sandra Bernhard once did an homage to what she called the Big-Tittied Bitches of Rock n’ Roll: Heart, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks. She mourned that there were no big-tittied bitches left. Who are the big-tittied bitches of Rock n’ Roll today?

VG: M.I.A. Tanya Stephens. Joan Jett, still. The Slits, who still suffer from the system and they are still brilliant. Male bands of that statute would have more deals. Big-tittied in terms of cojones, as opposed to cleavage as such.

DS: Do you have moments of extreme self-doubt where you wonder if anything you do matters to anyone?

VG: I have a lot of moments of extreme self-doubt, but you have to be humble and listen to what people say. Although I was never top of the New York Times book chart, I know people have liked my stuff, and that keeps me going. The classes have been amazing. I had done a lot of television and media, but it was the first time I had done something one-on-one. It was the old cliche that a person learns as much as they teach. Loads of my old students keep in touch with me; one wrote to me to tell me he is free-lancing for XXL and some other rap magazines, and how the classes really have been useful and he always refers to them. Even just one person is gratifying and encourages me to continue my work.

DS: You have worked for two corporations that are seen by many as the least punk in their respective communities, the BBC and NYU. How does one remain punk in such environments?

VG: I’m a freelancer. I go in, do my thing, and if they don’t like it then I don’t do it anymore. I stay true to myself, and if it doesn’t work out then I guess ‘fuck off’ on both sides. I haven’t had to compromise myself; nobody has asked me to. BBC America is a different animal than the BBC. As long as I can say what I want to say; I think people come to me because they know what they are getting.

DS: Have you ever been in a situation where you feared for your life, where you thought, this may be the way I go?

VG: There was a lot of violence in the punk times and I got beaten up in street brawls. I particularly remember once in Nigeria… I was there to make a documentary for Channel 4 about Fela Kuti. He was in jail at that time and he wanted to draw attention to his plight to showcase what was going on in Nigeria. It was hard to get through customs because my guides weren’t there to meet me. I found them hiding in the carpark because the police were after them.
We went to Fela’s house where I was going to stay; we went to the shrine and it was amazing. The whole house was covered in people sleeping. I was woken up by this little girl very early in the morning, only about two hours later. She was tapping me on the shoulder and when I looked around there was nobody there, whereas it had been covered in people. She said, “Come! Come! The army is here!”
I went outside and there was the army arresting everyone. People were lined up against the wall. Pascal Imbert, a French guy who was managing Fela, was already on the truck and they were about to take him away. There were all these really serious, heavey Nigerian soldiers with machine guns around. Not friendly, more like stone-faced Belsen guards. It was like that Bob Marley song Ambush in the Night: there were four guns aiming at me. They all turned their guns on me and said, “What should we do with her?” From the truck Pascal shouts out, “Leave her alone! She’s my wife! She’s just arrived from Paris! She doesn’t know anything!” The combination of the words “She’s my wife, she doesn’t’ know anything” were enough. Of course, I had neither arrived from Paris nor was his wife. But they just left me alone; they thought I was just some stupid woman. That time sexism worked in my favor. [Laughs] She doesn’t know anything! They were about to take Pascal away and I rushed up to the head guy very bravely—Pascal always gives me props for this—and I said, “Where are you taking my husband?!” They were actually taking him to a secret jail.

DS: What happened to him in the secret jail?

VG: There’s a documentary about it. He got very thin, he contracted dysentry and he got various diseases. No food, or terrible food. Luckily for him after some months there was an amnesty and he was amongst the prisoners who were released. That was a very heavy moment. I thought I would die, either right then or in a Nigerian jail.

DS: In Jamaica there was so much violence during the civil war.

VG: I’ve seen a lot of death. Many of the people I knew in Jamaica are dead. I think of them a lot; like my very, very close friend Massive Dread. He did so much for the community. At Christmas he’d hold a big party for the kids, and all the rival gangs would come. He was trying to break up some of the coke runnings. They started to have crack dens in Trenchtown and he worked against those. He was opening a library called the Trenchtown Reading Center, in the middle of this broken down ghetto, where kids could sit down to do homework and read books in this nice courtyard. It was really worthwhile.


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This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

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October 11, 2006

Dark matter lacks extra gravitational force

Dark matter lacks extra gravitational force

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

This chart from NASA indicates that the universe is usually regarded as consisting of some 25% of dark matter.

Scientists now think they know how fast dark matter would fall if it were dropped on other dark matter. Like the dark matter version of Galileo’s experiment of dropping items to the ground from the tower of Pisa, theorists from the California Institute of Technology and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto found that there is no more attractive force associated with dark matter than with normal matter. This finding helps to eliminate other theoretical models created to explain phenomena that required an extra force within dark matter. The results of the work are presented in the September 28th 2006 issue of Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter has long fascinated scientists ever since its effects were detected in the 1970s. It is matter that does not emit or reflect light and so cannot be detected directly, but it is understood to exist from its gravitational effects on visible matter, namely its effect on the speed of stars around galaxies. Scientists still don’t know what makes up dark matter.

The work done was mostly theoretical, but the program was written to simulate observations made of the Sagittarius galaxy. The effect the team was looking for would be caused by tidal forces between the galaxy’s dark matter and the Milky Way’s dark matter. Just like the moon exerts a pull on the earth, causing tides, so does the Milky Way exert a force on the Sagittarius galaxy. The scientists were able to conclude that the dark matter affect other dark matter in the same way regular matter does. Kesden and Kamionkowski, the co-author from the California Institute of Technology, tried more than one distribution of the dark matter but found the current theory fits best with the data. This theory says that most dark matter around a galaxy is located around a galaxy in a kind of halo, and is made of lots of small particles.

The prediction that there may be an extra force associated with dark matter appeared in part to explain strange phenomena in the universe. One such phenomenon is the universal structure of galaxies. Galaxies tend to clump themselves together, with voids in between. Computer simulations showed that these voids contained dark matter. It had been theorized that this occurred because there was an extra force in dark matter clumping it together. Kesden mentions that these structures may be caused by other forces that affect only regular matter, like electricity and magnetism, but not dark matter. These forces would clump normal matter together and not affect the dark matter. They now conclude that the force is not gravitational.

Scientists, such as Glennys Farrar, a theoretical physicist at New York University, who examined the paper’s arguments, said that the researchers made too many assumptions about their simulated dark matter. Kamionskowski responded with, “We know pretty well where the dark matter is in the Milky Way.” Therefore they could extrapolate that for other galaxies. However, he continued to mention that other scientists might want a more detailed comparison of the simulation with the data. Kesden states that there will always be doubters. He says a researcher then has to think, “What kind of tricks can you play to hide such an [extra force]? So it’s a game. You have to be sneaky to rule everything out.” As far as his game goes, “Ours was just for a typical scenario, assuming there wasn’t a conspiracy to hide the force.”

Related news

  • “NASA discovers new evidence of dark matter” — Wikinews, August 21, 2006


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May 7, 2006

Human Rights Watch implicates 600+ in war prisoner abuse

Human Rights Watch implicates 600+ in war prisoner abuse

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Sunday, May 7, 2006

A human rights project, The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), released a report in Washington saying that allegations of detainee abuse, torture and killings have now implicated at least 600 U.S. military and civilian personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the prison for terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The project is a cooperation between New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First.

The human rights groups say they analyzed thousands of pages of government documents and conducted interviews with witnesses and prisoners who say they were abused by U.S. troops.

“Over 95 percent of those implicated were military personnel,” said Hina Shamsi, a senior counsel for the group Human Rights First. “The remainder were from the CIA or other intelligence agencies or were civilian contractors working either for the military or the CIA The cases involve over 1,000 acts of abuse, including homicide, assault, cruelty, maltreatment, maiming and sexual abuse.”

“We found that abuses were pervasive, extending far beyond Abu Ghraib and that investigations have been incomplete and delayed, which has left a general failure of accountability,” she said.

In the two years since the Abu Ghraib scandal surfaced, the human rights groups say 40 people have been sentenced to serve time in prison. Of those, 10 have been sentenced to a year or more in detention.

Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a press officer at the Department of Defense, told VOA the allegations outlined by the human rights groups “are false.”

Commander Gordon says the military has conducted more than 600 criminal investigations resulting in charges against 251 soldiers who faced courts-martial, the military’s equivalent of criminal trials, or administrative punishment.

Commander Gordon says all allegations of abuse are taken seriously, people were held accountable, and the military’s system of justice does work.

The information from the human rights groups comes at same time as the news that a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel is expected to be charged in connection with the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“Two years ago, U.S. officials said the abuses at Abu Ghraib were aberrations and that people who abused detainees would be brought to justice,” said the faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School, Professor Meg Satterthwaite. “Yet our research shows that detainee abuses were widespread, and few people have truly been brought to justice.”

A detainee in outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military policeman at Abu Ghraib prison on outskirts of Baghdad (file photo – June 22, 2004) Two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal caused a worldwide uproar, reports say Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan will become the highest-ranking officer to be charged in the case.

Colonel Jordan’s attorney says he expects his client will be charged within the next few days on several counts, including dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer and lying to investigators.

The colonel led the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib between September and December 2003.

Military investigations determined that Colonel Jordan, who was trained as a civil affairs officer, had no experience with interrogating prisoners and failed to properly supervise soldiers under his command.

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April 2, 2006

President Bush to limit congressional oversight in PATRIOT amendment act

President Bush to limit congressional oversight in PATRIOT amendment act

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Sunday, April 2, 2006

President Bush signed the “USA PATRIOT Act Additional Reauthorizing Amendments Act of 2006” into law. In the signing statement, Bush averred that he could withhold information about the administration’s controversial use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act powers and National Security Letters if he deemed that they impaired foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive’s constitutional duties. Lawmakers and Legal experts have questioned the president’s authority to contravene the Congress’s intent in such a way.

The Patriot Act reauthorisation bill specifically mandates the Inspector General of the Department of Justice to audit the administration’s use of investigative authority granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and National Security Letters and requires these audits to be submitted for congressional review.

In the signing statement, President Bush wrote “The executive branch shall construe the provisions of H.R. 3199 that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch, such as sections 106A and 119, in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive’s constitutional duties.”

This follows on the heels of the signing of the congressional ban on torture issued in January of this year, when the President declared that he would view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. A senior white house official told a Boston Globe reporter that “Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case.” The official added “We are not expecting that those two responsibilities will come into conflict, but it’s possible that they will.”

Lawmakers tried to get a handle on President Bush’s use of signing statements in 2003, by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.

Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.


Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) voiced concern over the way national security is being used as a catch all phrase in this and a number of other signing statements, saying “If you take this to its logical conclusion, because during war the commander in chief has an obligation to protect us, any statute on the books could be summarily waived,”

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said “On the one hand, they deny that Congress even has the authority to pass laws on these subjects like torture and eavesdropping, and in addition to that, they say that Congress is not even entitled to get information about anything to do with the war on terrorism.”

Sen Arlen Specter, (R-Pa) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee argued “He (Bush) can say whatever he likes, I don’t know if that has a whole lot of impact on the statute. Statutes are traditionally a matter of congressional intent,”

Sen Patrick J. Leahy, (D-Ver) said in a prepared statement: “The president’s signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word, The president’s constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by the Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow. It is our duty to ensure, by means of congressional oversight, that he does so.

Signing Statements

The signing statement is a written proclamation, issued by the president of the United Sates that accompany the signing of a law passed by the legislative branch and generally sets forth how the executive branch intends to interpret and enforce the new law.

The use of signing statements started with the US’s fifth President James Monroe (1817-1825) and from that time was used sparingly. In fact from Monroe to Jimmy Carter (39 th President 1977-1981) there were a total of a 109 signing statements issued, 75 of which were to protect presidential prerogatives and 34 were to instruct the executive branch agencies on the interpretation of sections of the law. Whereas from the Reagan administration through the Clinton administration there were a total of 396 signing statements made with 322 to protect presidential prerogative and 74 to instruct on presidential interpretation of the law. Following along this sharp increase the Bush administration issued 435 statements almost entirely objecting to encroachments upon presidential prerogatives.

The key argument involved here is in the interpretation of the constitution. The Bush administration is acting from on an idea called the Unitary Executive theory – you may have noticed it is mentioned twice in his signing statement – this theory holds that all three branches of the federal government have the power and duty to interpret the Constitution and that the meaning of the Constitution is determined through the dynamic interaction of all three branches.

This idea gained strength during the Reagan administration as a response to the presidency having been severely weakened by Vietnam and, Watergate and is mainly championed by the “Federalist Society,” a group of conservative lawyers who nearly all worked in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan white houses. It largely claims its authority from two sources within the Constitution—the “Oath” and “Take Care” clauses of Article II. The “Oath” requirement acts as a sort of shield, protecting the president from enforcing things he independently determines are unconstitutional, and the “Oath” clause directs the president to “faithfully execute the Office of the President and [to] preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Acting on this theory, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel Samuel Alito wrote a draft memo On a Feb. 5, 1986 outlined a strategy for strengthening presidential authority. It laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law. He explained his thoughts this way:

“Since the president’s approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president’s understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress,” He later added that “by forcing some rethinking by courts, scholars, and litigants, it may help to curb some of the prevalent abuses of legislative history.”

Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University states his objection to this; “It’s nothing short of breath-taking. In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and preempted the judiciary.

The office of legal consul under President Clinton declared: “If the President may properly decline to enforce a law, at least when it unconstitutionally encroaches on his powers, then it arguably follows that he may properly announce to Congress and to the public that he will not enforce a provision of an enactment he is signing. If so, then a signing statement that challenges what the President determines to be an unconstitutional encroachment on his power, or that announces the President’s unwillingness to enforce (or willingness to litigate) such a provision, can be a valid and reasonable exercise of Presidential authority.”



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February 14, 2006

Study says people don\’t understand the emotional tone of emails, but think they do

Study says people don’t understand the emotional tone of emails, but think they do

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

People only ascertain the intended tone on an e-mail message about 56% of the time, not much better than chance, according to a study led by Prof. Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago) and Prof. Justin Kruger (New York University). The research also found that people think they’ve correctly interpreted the tone 90% of the time.

Epley and Kruger discovered that not only were the receivers of the e-mails overconfident about their understanding of the message’s tone, but the senders were as well. About 78% of the senders thought that the receiver would correctly interpret the tone of their e-mail message.

Epley explained that “People in our study were convinced they’ve accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance.”

He observed that “people often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they ‘hear’ the tone they intend in their head as they write.” Kruger likened this to findings from previous research by Elizabeth Newton that people vastly overestimated their ability to convey a tune by tapping out its rhythm. “It’s impossible not to hear the song as you’re tapping away,” he said. “So you have a hard time separating yourself from your own perspective and realizing how impoverished the listeners’ data really are.”

Epley stated that similar misunderstandings of emotional tone play a major role in starting online flame wars.

The study has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.



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